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Myanmar teak trade: Highly prized, highly dodgy

GS Paper 3

Source: Indian Express

 Context: After the military junta took control of Myanmar, the state-owned company, which had exclusive rights over the country’s precious timber and teak trade, also came under the military.

  • There was a number of timber auctions since the coup and sales of this “conflict” wood, pro-democracy supporters allege, are a key revenue stream for the military regime.


Importance of Myanmar teak:

  • Teak from Myanmar’s deciduous and evergreen forests is considered the most tensile and durable hardwood, resistant to water and termites.
  • It is in demand for high-end furniture, veneer and ship decking – much sought-after by the luxury yacht industry.


Illegal harvesting of timber and teak from Myanmar:

  • There have been increased instances of illegal trade of Myanmar timber; Global Forest Watch says the country, over the last two decades, has lost forest cover roughly the size of Switzerland.
  • International NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released data, which showed that over 70% of the logs exported from Myanmar between 2000-2013, were illegally harvested.


Global regulations to tackle illegal trade:

  • The European Union introduced the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which put the onus on timber merchants to do sufficient due diligence to disallow illegal timber from entering their markets.
  • Myanmar itself banned the export of whole logs.


Impact on Indian Traders:

  • Following the ban on the export of whole logs, a new regulation came in for only teak in “sizes” to be exported.
  • India is looked upon as a leakage country for illegally exporting timber.


Loopholes present:

  • Claiming that the price for the timber was paid before the 2021 coup.
  • Trade data reveals some Indian companies simply put “Asia” in the column for the origin of the wood, without specifying which country
  • In transit passes they signed, traders wrote “imported” in the space for declaring where the teak was purchased from.


  • Strengthen enforcement of existing laws
  • Increase transparency in the supply chain
  • Enhance international cooperation
  • Address the demand side of the problem: Illegal logging persists because there is a market for illegal timber.
  • Tighten regulations on Indian traders: India needs to strengthen its regulations on the import of timber and crack down on companies that are involved in illegal trade.